Nowadays, obesity and being overweight are among the major global health concerns. Many, diet-related diseases impose high tangible and intangible costs, and threaten the sustainability of health-care systems worldwide. In this study, we model, at the macroeconomic level, the impact of energy intake from different types of carbohydrates on the population's BMI (body mass index). We proceed in three steps. First, we develop a framework to analyse both the consumption choices between simple and complex carbohydrates and the effects of these choices on people health conditions. Second, we collect figures for 185 countries (over the period 2012-2014) regarding the shares of simple (sugar and sweetener) and complex (cereal) carbohydrates in each country's total dietary energy supply. Third, we use regression techniques to: (1) estimate the impact of these shares on the country's prevalence of obesity and being overweight; (2) compute for each country an indicator of dietary pattern based on the ratio between simple and complex carbohydrates, weighted by their estimated effects on the prevalence of obesity and being overweight; and (3) measure the elasticity of the prevalence of obesity and being overweight with respect to changes in both carbohydrate dietary pattern and income per capita. We find that unhealthy eating habits and the associated prevalence of excessive body fat accumulation tend to behave as a 'normal good' in low, medium- and high-HDI (Human Development Index) countries, but as an 'inferior good' in very high-HDI countries.
Keywords: carbohydrates; dietary patterns; human development; nutrition transition; overweight and obesity.